This post will explain:
- The inspiration for Project LIT Community
- How Maplewood students plan to increase book access in Nashville, so that all children can become lifelong readers
- How you can help! (If you’re short on time, this video would be a great place to start)
Problem: Over the summer, I came across this article in The Atlantic, which described the immediate and longer-term effects of growing up in a “book desert,” or community with limited access to books.
According to childhood- and literacy-education researcher Susan Neuman, “when there are no books, or when there are so few that choice is not an option, book reading becomes an occasion and not a routine.” Consequently, the likelihood that children growing up in book deserts become avid readers and writers is slim.
Book deserts are a nationwide problem. Unfortunately, Nashville is no exception. While we are fortunate to have a wonderful public library system and several phenomenal non-profit organizations, the reality is that many students still struggle to find books outside of school.
Solution: Despite living in a book desert, my sophomores at Maplewood High School (many of whom I have now taught for two or three years) are voracious readers and deeply understand the joy and value of reading. Now, I have empowered them to ensure that more children in our community love reading, as well.
We recently launched an organization, Project LIT (Libraries in the) Community. Our mission is to inspire all Nashville children to become lifelong readers by making books more accessible and creating excitement about reading.
So, how are we going to do it?
Phase 1 – Research: Students began the year by researching book deserts and understanding their impact on communities, including their own. Students listed places in Nashville where they could currently purchase or check out books, and brainstormed other locations that would benefit from more books. From there, students wrote persuasive letters to community members and business leaders, which described Project LIT Community and how they could help.
Phase 2 – Book Collection: We recently launched a book drive with the goal of collecting 5,000 new and used books to place in little libraries. Thanks to the generosity of community members like Shereen Cook, Liz Eskridge, Amy Phelan, and Matt Rubinstein, and foundations such as PENCIL and the Nashville Predators, we have already gathered more than 1,000 books, and a recent grant will soon allow us to double or triple that amount.
Phase 3 – Build and Design Little Libraries: Thanks to a generous donation from Gannett, the plan is to transform USA Today and Tennessean newspaper stands into little libraries. Once the stands are delivered to Maplewood next week, we will begin to paint and decorate them with the Project LIT Community brand. In addition to converting newspaper stands, we will also build little libraries with the help and support of the Nashville Public Library and Turnip Green Creative Reuse.
Phase 4 – Forming Library Partnerships: No one knows the community better than our students. Therefore, students have already begun to form partnerships with local businesses, churches, hospitals, community centers, barbershops, restaurants, daycares, etc. Once the little libraries are ready (painted and stocked with books), we will begin to place them inside these organizations.
Phase 5 – Sustainability of Libraries: Students will work with partners to ensure that the libraries remain functional. While the libraries will operate with the “take one, leave one” model, we recognize that we may need to deliver additional books to some locations where more individuals are checking out books than dropping them off.
Phase 6 – Spread Love of Reading: My students will also be charged with inspiring other children in their community to become avid readers. This will happen in formal and informal ways. We plan to partner with a local elementary school to create a reading buddies program, where our students will read to elementary students at least twice a month. We also plan to create reading “teams,” with my students serving as “reading captains.” The goal is for Maplewood students to get other children (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) to a) join Project LIT Community and then b) read, read, read! We will have lists of recommended reads (books that we know will hook even the most reluctant reader) and fun events such as our reading marathon to create a reading-going culture throughout the community. There is tremendous power in positive peer pressure!
Phase 7 – Share Successes: In May, we will present our year-one accomplishments (including a documentary), plan improvements for year two, and discuss ways to bring the project to scale (city, state, and nation-wide).
True Project-Based Learning
In addition to solving a serious problem in their community, students will gain valuable real-world experience in several areas. Every student will utilize his or her strengths and passions to make this project successful. ALL students will gain valuable skills while also receiving mentoring and support from adults in their desired professions. Possible work teams include:
- Design & Engineering Team: D& E team members will be responsible for designing, constructing, and decorating the Little Free Libraries. Whether it’s creating a logo, brochure, or poster, these students will also utilize their art and graphic design skills to enhance the project.
- Fundraising Team: These students will lead the fundraising efforts, coordinating the book drive and contacting potential partners for financial donations.
- Logistics Team: These students will inventory and organize books upon collection, tag each book with a Project LIT Community sticker, and coordinate the distribution of books into the community.
- Site Managers: These students will be responsible for identifying organizations that agree to display little libraries, and communicating with these partners to ensure sustainability of the libraries.
- Marketing and Advertising Team: These students will be responsible for creating buzz and awareness about the project, and running the Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts. They will create a social media campaign to generate buzz and awareness about the project. They will also create and run a website.
- Media Team: These students will contact local and national media for press coverage, and conduct all interview requests. They are comfortable in front of and behind the camera.
- Reading Team: These students will be responsible for reading to younger children in the community, formally in elementary schools, as well as informally their homes and communities.
- Reading Captains: All students will be charged with spreading their love of reading and encouraging others to join Project LIT Community.
How can you help?
- You can donate used or new books (for readers of all ages) to Maplewood High School (401 Walton Ln, Nashville, TN 37216). You can mail them or drop them during school hours.
- Encourage friends and colleagues to donate, as well!
- Let us know if you would like to place a little library in your business or organization.
- Email Mr. Amato (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or suggestions!